Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon, leader of Sanctuary Church, and his wife Yeon Ah Lee Moon
Over a week ago there was an explosion of articles about Sanctuary Church’s blessing ceremony which featured church members in wedding gowns and suits carrying AR-15s and wearing crowns of bullets. For a lot of people, this ceremony highlighted the absurd marriage between the church and right-wing politics. Most who posted this article noted that this “gun blessing” was insensitive, considering that only a week prior to the blessing 17 people were killed and 16 injured by a gunman who carried an AR-15 style semi automatic rifle at Stoneman Douglas High School. Many saw this ceremony as silly, nutty – laughable, really. But this church isn’t just a bunch of quirky right-wing nuts. I sincerely believe they’re dangerous.
I grew up in the Unification Church, or the Moonies. Founded by the self-proclaimed messiah Rev. Sun Myung Moon over 60 years ago, my parents joined in their twenties believing this church to be God’s vehicle for establishing world peace. They left behind everything when they joined the church and spent years selling tchotchkes door to door, winning converts for their movement, living in vans and communal church centers, and yielding to the constant direction of church leaders. Over time the church’s direct grip on their lives loosened, and they were allowed to raise families, send their kids to public schools, and even take paying jobs.
The Unification Church was always radically changing, both structurally and theologically. After Rev. Moon passed away, and even prior to his death, different sects popped up in hopes to faithfully preserve Moon’s tradition. Sanctuary Church, led by Rev. Moon’s son Hyung Jin, who had been knighted Moon’s heir multiple times, is one of these sects. Over a year ago I posted on tumblr about this church with excerpts from talks by the two sons of Rev. Moon (self-proclaimed messiah and founder of the unification church) who run Sanctuary Church – one who is considered “the king” and inheritor of the senior Moon’s mission and the other an owner of the gun company Kahr Arms. These talks made it clear that they had a right, and perhaps even a duty, to murder their mother Hak Ja Han. They believe she, as the current leader of the mainline Unification Church, has betrayed the legacy and theology of their father and because of her heresy and “fall” deserves the death of a traitor.
There’s a ton more to say about their ideology and practices that reveal that they’re really fucked up, but honestly, I have mostly been bothered by the posts I keep seeing from current members of the Unification Church. They have used this as an opportunity to to say, “OK, we’re not like those whack jobs!” but, as another 2nd gen ex-member I know has pointed out, those whack jobs have come to these theological conclusions for a reason. They’re not grounded in nothing.
In Korea, there are countless stories of people who have experienced violence at the hand of the Unification Church. Critical reporters have received death threats, Christian pastors and anti-church activists have been beaten, some even abducted by the church. For those who grew up in the church, we all know the stories of violence that we’ve grown numb to. People often recount these stories as if they’re simply kooky. Many of our parents were locked in rooms with the “Black Heung Jin Nim,” who is supposedly the physical vessel of Rev. Moon’s deceased son, and were physically forced to confess their sins. Some were handcuffed, even. Many were beaten. Moon’s right hand man, Bo Hi Pak, even had brain damage from one of these beatings. We know stories of the Moon kids, and how they’d torture other 2nd generation adherents for entertainment. That includes the Sanctuary Church founder, Hyung Jin. I’ve met some people who counted it an honor to be hit by Hyun Jin (another son, running a different sect) and of course there is Hyo Jin’s well-documented abuse, of both members and of his wife. Our own parents were ordered to beat each other’s bare asses with paddles.
This all goes back to Moon. Sanctuary’s love for firearms goes back to Moon. He loved guns. His first major business was a gun company, and he owned several. He wanted all second generation members to learn how to use a gun just in case the Communists came to kill them.
With or without the blatant violence the membership experienced, with or without the guns, the Unification Church is and has always been violent.
The church keeps people in poverty so the Moon family can live in luxury. This has always been the case. We know about the mandatory donations for Moon to build his palace, or for our sins to be forgiven, or to simply get married. There were the mandatory workshops that were to secure our family’s placement in the Kingdom of Heaven. There were the shitty jobs our parents were forced to work, often with little or no pay.
And then there’s the Filipino members who came to the U.S. with a mission, discovering only after traveling across the world that this mission was to directly serve the leaders of the church. They lived with top Korean leaders in the U.S., cooking, cleaning, doing childcare, without pay. Some of them had their passports taken away. Some were unable to communicate with their loved ones in the Phillipines. I shouldn’t have to point out that this is slavery.
The violence may not be with guns or in the form of physical beatings, but it is still outrageously violent, and it’s all rooted in Moon.
As a queer person, I was always deeply aware of how wrong my existence was perceived to be. I was 12 or so when I stumbled on the speech where Moon called gay people “dung-eating dogs” and prophesied their coming destruction. My destruction. I wasn’t much older when I saw Moon speak in real life, starting before sunrise and extending into the afternoon. For hours, with rage, he spoke about God’s disgust for those who practiced immoral sex, namely the gays. I was told that gay people, even if they remained celibate, could never inherit the Kingdom of Heaven because they could never receive the blessing ceremony. My salvation was impossible. God hated me. I learned to hate myself.
I had no place in this community of Moonies, and I had no place in the outside world. Suicide was something I prayerfully considered throughout my teen years, for my sake and my family’s sake. I knew salvation was familial, and I knew living a “gay lifestyle” was far worse than committing suicide. All sexual sin was devastating in the church, which is why “purity knives” were a thing for young women in the church. If women were in a situation where they could potentially be sexually assaulted, they were prepared to discard their bodies before anything happened that might taint their purity.
All this to say that Sanctuary Church sucks. It is not a community children should be raised in, and it is not a joke. People could get killed. But also, the Unification Church, in all of its manifestations, has always been dangerous. It has always been toxic. It has always been evil. Rev. Moon, the so-called second coming of Christ, was not the messiah, but a violent, narcissistic anti-christ. Frankly, I’m glad he’s dead.
For those who defend Moon and his church, you’re complicit. I forgive you. I realize you are in a difficult position. You gave your life to Moon and to realize you were wrong is to question your own life, your own identity, every decision you’ve ever made, all the ways you have supported violence.
Please know that it’s not too late. You can choose a different life, a new identity. You can be free. People, your family and friends, will forgive you. I also believe that someday, you may be able to forgive yourself.
I want to believe the first generation of Moonies were good-hearted and taken advantage of. I know that it’s more complicated than that, but I think this is for the most part true. I believe there is something good in you that led you to the church. I pray that something good also leads you out.